Early last month, while the United States was in its own pre-election haze, Americans giddily re-tweeting whatever incremental shift Nate Silver's model had just spat out, CNN personalities with their Magic Wall, nightly groping at some Ohio precinct, over in Kabul, Karzai was making his move. With the West's gaze averted, he quietly set in motion his plan to control Afghanistan's next election.
Through the ministry of justice, Karzai pushed a draft amendment to the country's election law that would add sweeping new restrictions to candidate eligibility for the Afghan presidency. The law now sits in Parliament awaiting debate, but if it passes, it would disqualify anyone who has a disability -- physical or psychological, anyone who can't speak and write in both Dari and Pashtu, anyone who doesn't have ten years of work experience in the administration, anyone who doesn't have a university degree, anyone who can't pay one million Afs (the equivalent of $20,000), and anyone who can't come up with 100,000 signatures cumulatively from at least twenty different provinces.
A contrast, to be sure, with the comparatively modest 35 years of age and a citizen required of U.S. presidential candidates. But is it a necessary one? After all, superficially the law would seem to weed out warlords, as well as especially ethnocentric candidates, for whom the inability to speak one of the languages that half the country speaks may indicate undue animus towards them, and for whom signatures from twenty provinces would seem to demand at least some appeal beyond just an ethnic powerbase which, in the fractious ethnic politics of the country, could be enough to propel a candidate into a run off election. Besides,
"Afghanistan is very unsettled," as Ambassador Ronald Neumann, the U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan from 2005 to 2007, told me. "It is not clear whether a brokered election coming out of agreement among power brokers would be more or less destabilizing than a contentious fight among multiple candidates with highly partisan ethnic or tribal political bases."
And perhaps that's what's going on here; perhaps Karzai knows better than anyone how to promote a peaceful transition, and, in furtherance of that goal, what kind of people should be disqualified.
Or perhaps he knows exactly which people he wants to disqualify. The timing, after all, is curious. Eighteen months before an election is awfully late to introduce laws that restrict who can stand for them. And when you look at the names that began to circulate in the rumors about the upcoming elections, an explanation emerges: he had to wait that long because he had to see who might run before designing laws to disqualify them.
Haneef Atmar, the highly regarded bureaucrat who served ably in three different ministries, lost a leg while fighting in Jalalabad in ‘88. The disability provision would disqualify him-and many others, given that Afghanistan has the world's second highest proportion of disabled people (behind only Cambodia) and has its most heavily mined capitol city. Yunos Quanooni, who came in second behind Karzai in the 2004 elections, and is a former Minister and speaker of the parliament, was disabled by a car bomb in 1993. Also disqualified. Zalmay Khalizad, an American of Afghan extraction who has served as U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan and to the UN (and therefore whose candidacy would require an awkward -- though not unprecedented -- citizenship change) has no lack of expertise in government, but does not have the requisite ten years in Afghanistan's. And the list goes on. Is Karzai's law tailor-made to disqualify specific challengers?
That is, of course, is the most conspiratorial analysis. It's famously difficult to decipher Karzai's political calculus, but if he is trying to assure maximal control over his successor, how better than to cast doubt over who will be eligible to run? That would be vintage Karzai. In earlier cycles, it was the date of the election he delayed announcing and then moved up, which kneecapped opponents who hadn't been able to plan for the elections without knowing when they would be, and now only had two months to campaign. Indeed, today, potential candidates, and those who might support them, are sitting on their hands. No one wants to cast his or her lot without knowing who will actually be eligible. Every day the qualifications for office requirements to run are unknown, candidates without Karzai's blessing see their chances fade. There will simply not be enough time for an alternative to make himself (or, more improbably, herself) known to the Afghan electorate before the election.
Though Karzai's intentions are not apparent, the practical effects the law would have are clear. The "ten years in government administration" probably won't include Taliban or pre-Taliban government experience, which means what the law is really saying is that candidates must have been in government between 2001 and 2014-all the years Karzai was in charge. In practice, the clause is a lazy euphemism for "must have worked for Karzai."
Or, take the university degree requirement. At first blush, an apparent assurance that the president will not hail from the country's deep stable of power-hungry warlords. And yet in practice, it would be better at eliminating regular Afghans from the field than especially violent ones. A college education was a luxury unavailable to most who remained in the country during the thirty years of on again, off again war, so the requirement would reduce the field of homegrown candidates in favor of émigrés to Western countries who returned after the worst of the fighting-a species Afghans have historically had a hard time trusting. Nor would the degree requirement even be all that effective at preventing warlords from running, since they could sue for exception given their military rank, or their knowledge of Sharia, as many have before in order to qualify for ministerial posts or Parliamentary seats. Some actually have essentially honorary university degrees, granted by Iran or Pakistan as part of the patronage relationships those countries have with their clients in Afghanistan.
Then there is the filing fee. The average income in Afghanistan is about $1,000 a year; the filing fee is twenty times that. It would virtually guarantee that all the candidates either be from the country's small financial urban elite, or have external backing. Or, have Karzai's. By way of comparison, there is no filing fee for an American presidential candidate, and other developing or post-conflict countries that do have filing fees have very small ones, designed to insure some accountability from those who run for office-not eliminate everyone who isn't already wealthy.
And every single one of these stipulations, by the way, militates against the participation of women, because they all depend on access. Work experience, financial resources, education level, and even the mobility required to get signatures in twenty-five different provinces for the requisite 100,000 signatures, raise a bar still difficult for women in Afghanistan to clear.
So how should the international community respond? Does it matter whether these are the cynical machinations of a despot desperate to hold on to as much power as possible after he leaves office? To install a seat warmer loyal to him for five years so that he can run again in 2019 (though constitution sets a limit of two consecutive terms, it does not mention a limit on non-consecutive terms)? Or are these the considered steps of a leader who knows better than anyone how to prevent the kind of violence possible when a presidential election comes along to inflame ethnic tensions, at exactly the same time the troops that might quell them are pulling out?
Certainly, the law is anathema to real representative democracy, and potentially, to the legitimacy of a post-Karzai president who will already, regardless of who he is and to which ethnic group he belongs, have a severe mandate problem in large parts of the country.
Fortunately, the law is still pending. At weakening the field, though, its effect is not contingent on its ratification, since no one can start a campaigning in earnest without knowing whether they'll be able to run. Meanwhile, the United States has begun negations with the Karzai government about the terms of the U.S. military withdrawal, with particular tension over immunity for the U.S. troops that remain. We need to think seriously, though, about what it is those troops that stay behind will be protecting. And how do we balance the tension between one man's idea of how to maintain stability, and a people's right-a right which comprised part of the justification for this nation sacrificing no shortage of blood and treasure-to choose their leader, from a field of candidates unfiltered by one man notorious for cronyism?
Jeffrey E Stern--www.JeffreyEstern.com--is a writer and development worker whose reporting from Afghanistan, Kashmir, and elsewhere has appeared in Esquire, Time, newsweek.com/The Daily Beast, the Philadelphia Inquirer, and other publications.
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Anyone seeking to understand Afghanistan in general, the flaws in the United States' effort there, or life on the ground as a political advisor in the midst of a counterinsurgency, should read The Valley's Edge by Daniel Green.
The book is a detailed, first-hand account of how a team of U.S. soldiers and civilians, focused on improving governance and development, operated in the midst of a worsening insurgency in one of the most remote provinces in Afghanistan. In the popular media and in academic articles, those who have followed the war over the past decade have been inundated with terms such as "Jirga," free and fair elections, pervasive corruption, and the nature of the Taliban insurgency. The Valley's Edge gives life to these expressions as the reader experiences through Green a meeting with disgruntled elders, seating a provincial council for the first time, a patrol to inspect development projects, the deaths of friends, and the inside stories behind how local government officials actually conducted their corrupt activities.
I first met Dan Green during his second tour as a State Department political advisor to the Provincial Reconstruction Team (PRT) in Uruzgan Province, one of the world's most remote locales, while serving there as a Special Forces officer in 2006. My distinct memory after sitting down with Green for the first time was that he was the first person that I had come across who seriously dedicated himself to understanding the complicated tribal and interpersonal political dynamics at play in every corner of Afghanistan. His work made me realize how superficial our knowledge of Afghan society and the insurgency was at the time (and still is to a large degree), and how those dynamics were critical to understanding popular support for the insurgency. In 2005 and 2006 the U.S. and coalition effort was taking a very black and white approach to the growing insurgency - those in government positions were good and deserved our support, while those labeled as "Taliban" were targeted.
Green's efforts, as described in The Valley's Edge, helped me realize how much we had to learn and how long it was going to take. As shown in the book, after sustained efforts to engage a cross section of Afghan leaders, it took Green the better part of a year to even begin understanding the complex and decades-old rivalries, feuds, and competing tribal groups that were interwoven into the fabric of a fledgling government, an under-resourced coalition effort, and a resurgent Taliban.
The Uruzgan described in The Valleys Edge is a microcosm of issues that have plagued the war effort in the past decade. For example, Green highlights the dichotomy that exists between maintaining security and improving governance. Security in Afghanistan was often established and sometimes brutally maintained by warlords cum government officials. In the case of Uruzgan, one of Afghanistan's most notorious warlords, Governor Jan Mohammed Khan, ruthlessly repressed the Taliban's attempts to reassert their influence in the province. However, his efforts were often at the expense of his tribal rivals, from whom he would withhold government positions and development aide. Green slowly peels back the onion on Jan Mohammed's network of supporters and rivals, and describes how the disaffected tribes viewed the United States as complicit in the repression because we often took the default position of supporting the "legitimate Afghan government".
Green aptly describes how Jan Mohammed's removal as governor ushered in a more democratic and legitimate official, but, in turn, also created a vacuum of significant tribal support for the government. This vacuum opened the door to the resurgence of the Taliban backed by the tribes that were forcefully repressed during Jan Mohammed's rule. The result was a significant spike in violence by the summer of 2006 that lessoned the ability of the PRT and NGOs to conduct development programs. Thus, though governance improved in Uruzgan, the removal of the province's most powerful strongman and his allies, coupled with the transition from the U.S. to the Dutch military in 2006 was a recipe for disaster.
Throughout The Valley's Edge, the reader is able to witness the evolution in the Taliban's tactics, from an uncoordinated and sporadic hit-and-run campaign to classic insurgent techniques of intimidating and assassinating government supporters. Green describes how by his second tour in 2006, the first suicide bomber, car bombs and a huge increase in IEDs were taking a toll on the populace, the efforts of the PRT, and him personally.
The reader also experiences the inadequacies of NATO. Green gets a firsthand look at the Dutch replacement of the U.S. presence in Uruzgan, and again it proves to be a microcosm of the broader flaws associated with NATO taking the lead for security in Afghanistan. He aptly describes how the Dutch found themselves dealing with a very hostile insurgency by the time they took charge of the province in the fall of 2006, which was far removed from the peacekeeping-like effort the Dutch government had signed up for in 2004-2005. In hindsight, this proved true of the entire NATO effort, as evidenced by the myriad of national caveats imposed on the various NATO forces by their governments intended to limit their exposure to the insurgency. The caveats imposed various limitations on what each nations' forces could and could not do, such as engaging in offensive operations or imposing geographical limitations on where units could patrol. Ironically these caveats over time prevented NATO from dealing with many of the sources of instability driving the insurgency, and severely hampered the flexibility of the NATO-ISAF commander. Green describes first-hand what he noticed during his third tour in Afghanistan as a military officer: the lack of will and capability in our NATO allies to prosecute a fully resourced, comprehensive counterinsurgency campaign. Voicing frustration, he also describes the lack of planning behind, and relative ineffectiveness of, the U.S. civilian surge in the fall of 2009.
The strength of The Valley's Edge is that it gives the reader perspective on the war's progression over time, while remaining focused on one geographical location. Green's multiple tours span six years and allow the reader to experience the digression in security, the transition to NATO, and our evolution in dealing with the Afghans. The Valley's Edge is certainly a recommended read, and one that historians will reference generations from now as they recount the history of the war in Afghanistan.
Michael Waltz is a Senior National Security Fellow at the New America Foundation and a former advisor on South Asia to Vice President Cheney.
DAVID FURST/AFP/Getty Images
Event notice: Please join the New America Foundation in New York City TODAY, March 6, at 6:30 p.m. for "Obama's Secret Wars" (NAF).
Bloody bombing: Five Afghan civilians were killed on Monday in a suicide attack claimed by the Taliban and targeting an International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) vehicle outside the NATO base at Bagram, where Qurans were burned by NATO troops two weeks ago (AJE, BBC, AP, CNN, LAT). Earlier, an attacker blew himself up in a busy area of Jalalabad, killing an Afghan intelligence officer and wounding a dozen security forces and civilians.
President Hamid Karzai met with U.S. Ambassador Ryan Crocker on Monday to discuss plans for a strategic partnership agreement between their two countries, but failed to come to an agreement on the transfer of detainees to Afghan control (NYT, AP, CNN). Disagreements over the details of the agreement reportedly led Karzai's National Security Advisor Rangin Dadfar Spanta to submit his resignation two months ago, as many Afghan officials worry that without an agreement in place, Afghanistan won't survive past the NATO withdrawal in 2014.
An interview by ABC News' Martha Raddatz with NATO commander Gen. John Allen aired on Monday, in which Gen. Allen affirms that the trust between NATO and Afghan troops remains "so great" that the Afghans were willing to accept the U.S. apology for accidentally burning Qurans (ABC). A Reuters poll found Monday that 56% of Americans support President Barack Obama's decision to apologize for the incident (Reuters).
Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) commanders in Bajaur expressed their anger on Monday at the news that the TPP deputy Maulvi Faqir Muhammad had been dismissed at a meeting over the weekend, and said the decision could "create a rift amongst the mujahedeen" (NYT, AFP, BBC, CNN). At least seven militants were killed and nine arrested in a clash with Pakistani security forces in Dera Bugti, Balochistan Province (The News, ET, CNN). Four militants were killed in a clash between rival militant groups the Taliban and Lashkar-i-Islam in Khyber Agency on Monday (Dawn).
On orders from the Supreme Court, a notice was pasted on the door of former president Pervez Musharraf's farmhouse in Islamabad requesting him to appear before the court on March 22 to testify about the assassination of former prime minister Benazir Bhutto (ET, AFP). And the core committee of the ruling Pakistan People's Party (PPP) has formed a committee to investigate whether PPP legislators in Punjab Province were responsible for the loss of a Senate seat to the Pakistan Muslim League in last week's elections (Dawn, ET, DT).
At least five people were injured Monday when the bus they were in came under fire as they were leaving a rally for the Awami National Party (ANP) in Karachi (Dawn). And civil society groups in Peshawar rallied Monday against the Dife-e-Pakistan Council (DPC), an umbrella group of hardline political and religious groups that has recently experienced a resurgence in Pakistan (ET).
Wrestling ringA two-day camel wrestling tournament concluded on Sunday in Dera Ghazi Khan in south Punjab, where the sport is extremely popular (ET). Contrary to popular belief, teaching camels wrestling holds is not an easy task, and the owner of runner-up Tufaan said it requires a lot of patience and skill.
-- Jennifer Rowland
Noorullah Shirzada/AFP/Getty Images
Cricketer-turned-politician Imran Khan is batting to strike out two major "conventional" political parties -- the leftist Pakistan People's Party and the conservative Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz -- simultaneously. He talks about eradicating corruption, handling the grievances of the Baloch and the tribal areas, "friendliness" as the ultimate foreign policy, and his plans to combat four of Pakistan's biggest "emergencies" in 90 days, should his party, Tehreek-e Insaf, win Pakistan's general elections planned for 2013.
Massive public turnout at his rallies -- what he calls a "tsunami" of support -- has inspired self-doubt among other politicians who claim to have captured the hearts of Pakistani people. But Khan's critics are unforgiving; some call his approach radical, and others believe he is backed by the establishment, although Khan dismisses such claims. Kiran Nazish talked with Khan about his meteoric rise and his plans to achieve what he calls "the New Pakistan."
Kiran Nazish: You have been talking a lot about leading a civil disobedience movement, but it hasn't happened yet. Will it happen at all?
Imran Khan: We have thought many times [that we might] go for it, but we have been reluctant to initiate because we do not want to exaggerate the chaos that has already shaken Pakistan. There was a point when we used to discuss amongst ourselves, that we should really commence the movement, but we refrained because we knew that it would only worsen the situation for the common man. However, if we do see the state of governance in the current regime getting out of hand, we would have no other choice but to go for it.
If the current government does anything unconstitutional, my party will boycott that and protest that. I am and will stand against anybody who goes against the judiciary or does not respect the judiciary. Anyone includes everyone. These few thieves [the politicians] have looted billions from the poor nation, and to save their own wealth they are now after the only sovereign institution [the Supreme Court].
KN: You keep calling the current government corrupt, making aggressive statements regarding the government-Supreme Court rift. But this government got elected democratically. Isn't that like saying you are against the people's choice?
IK: If you read Condoleezza Rice's books, she has exhaustively explained how the U.S. worked with Benazir Bhutto and General [Pervez] Musharraf to form their own type of puppet government. Now this government is responsible for the deaths of thousands of civilians and soldiers who have been killed in [the war on terror].
With the extent of corruption that this government has been indulging in, it was inevitable that they had this clash with the Supreme Court. The day the Supreme Court had called the NRO [National Reconciliation Ordinance] government unconstitutional, it was decided right then that this government couldn't have survived a good relation with [the Supreme Court]. Sadly, we have had no genuine opposition in this country. [There might have been] an opposition within parliamentary members who could have stood up and questioned the government, but that did not happen. The government did not resign, and everyone else was busy trying to save democracy -- while of course the government was trying to save their corruption.
The Supreme Court of any
state [is the institution that should have] the highest reliance and authority.
Such an institution in a democratic state has no [ground for] military
intervention and has the highest power to launch a control system for the
corrupt actions, or a corrupt state. If and when any other democratic
institution fails to perform, the Supreme Court can control them and make them
accountable. No one can challenge the Supreme Court. Our government, on the
other hand, is a corrupt government. I reject calling it a democratic state, it
having laid its foundations on the basis of a corrupt engagement called the
KN: So how do you plan to
protect the Supreme Court?
IK: Now the Supreme Court
is openly attacked and insulted, which I hope you agree is not a democratic
act. Should we let the corrupt government spoil the first independent chief
justice in the Supreme Court? I don't think so. We will decide in our party
central executive committee meeting soon when we will draft a plan and later
present it. This presentation will have guidelines on how to protect the system
and the judiciary from an imposed failure.
KN: How do you think this
idea of civil disobedience can save democracy?
IK: There is just one thing
that I suggest, a singular solution, which is something the Supreme Court has
also suggested. And that is: go to the people -- which means, we should have
free and fair elections, and let the people decide their true, democratic
KN: What would you say
about the "Memogate"
IK: If at any point the government fears military takeover, it should act with maturity not impunity. A democratic government needs to go to the people, not to outsiders. This happened twice in our country. In 1999, according to [counterterrorism expert and former CIA analyst] Bruce Riedel, [former Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz] Sharif went to him and asked him to save him from the military. And now we have this memogate [with Adm. Mike Mullen and former Pakistani Ambassador to Washington Husain Haqqani].
A democratic government should never fear, and needs to take responsibility. I take responsibility! Whoever takes responsibility, it will be very difficult for them. When I take responsibility, I will need authority as well. If I don't get that authority, I will go back to the people. The people who elected me! I will never [put] a foreign agenda [ahead of] my own people. I will not go to the U.S. for help -- or anywhere else for that matter.
KN: Are you ready for the
elections if they take place sooner?
IK: We are ready for elections anytime. Our entire party will be ready, whether the elections happen now or later. We have been talking about mid-term elections since the NRO cases came out in the open, and yet were dismissed in the Supreme Court by the government. But it seems that at that time the N-League [Nawaz Sharif's party] wanted to save the system. We have been ready, and now we think we should have early elections. We will reveal our action plan soon.
Whatever happens and whenever the elections take place, PTI [Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf] will sweep the elections. We can't be confident enough.
KN: You have been making
too many promises. What would you do if you are unable to handle things, if and
when you come into power?
IK: I am completely confident; I will not fail at anything. My party will not fail. I will change the entire system in 90 days. If the system is not corrected in 90 days, it will never be corrected at all.
I believe there is a proper way to handle every institution. The only way to run a government appropriately is when the institutions are strong and work under a system of accountability and in synchrony. We need to restore the institutions.
I have a well-thought-out plan to change the system in 90 days. When a
country loses its ethical leadership, that is when its physical leadership takes
over. This means if your democratic government fails, your army will take over.
We need to ensure that point doesn't come. And I take that responsibility.
KN: What role do you want to give to the army? How much intervention will you allow?
IK: In a democratic government, the power is held by the state head. Every policy is supposed to be made by the government and not the army. Foreign policy is the job of the democratic government and not the army. Why is the army controlling the war on terror? I will never understand.
I am against military takeover or any sort of military intervention, to any extent at all, in any capacity at all. Pakistan needs democracy and public political participation without any sort or form of authoritative control.
It's the responsibility of the civilian government to take control of state matters, especially those which have to do with state's sovereignty. I don't think I will be so lousy that the army would have to make my decision[s].
KN: And how would your civil military policy balance out?
IK: No aid, proper taxation, and proper division of resources are my major strategies to balance out the whole system. We can't free the people until we give them what they want. We need to identify the needs of this country and focus on that. Why would the military intervene if the democratic government is operating in harmony and giving the people what they want? My goal is to bring that harmony. Everything else will fall into place on its own.
KN: What's your policy on the
IK: Friendly! Look, we don't want to make any enemies. My nation and my people is my priority. I will do whatever is my people's priority. The war on terror was fought for dollars, and do you see what lesson we learn from it? The lesson is, to not fight the war for dollars. The lesson is, to not disadvantage your own people, to feed your government. We don't want dollars if they will overshadow our people's interest.
KN: What's your policy on
IK: Pakistan's founding father, Muhammad Ali Jinnah, wrote a letter to Harry S. Truman talking about the injustices done to the people. Every Pakistani stands by that letter. We stand by the one simple fact that Palestinians should be given their homeland. PTI is not against any people, we are with the people. We believe in human rights, and that is our ultimate stance.
KN: What's your policy on the India-Kashmir conflict?
IK: We will definitely try to work our way around our relationship with India. India is indeed our closest and most familiar neighbor. We would love to improve trade and other interactions.
The only problem with
India is that there has to be a road map. Once we figure that out, we will know
how to go about it too. We will try to work on the Kashmir issue with whatever
mutuality allows us to. But it is very important to note that we cannot ignore
Kashmir. Or else, if another Mumbai happens, we will be back to square one.
KN: How do you plan to
deal with the militants or Jihadis?
IK: We have learned that proxy policies don't work. To keep militant groups is not the idea we should follow and is certainly not the strategy I support or will follow. In Karachi when the Supreme Court did the hearing, they found out the three major parties had hired militant groups to escalate their fights. We can't let such things happen. People get hurt.
We need to do a truth and reconciliation strategy in the tribal areas. Why should we keep fighting? Wars don't achieve anything. We are having a dialogue as we speak. Americans are having a dialogue, and we need to do this too. So far, since the dialogue has been initiated by the U.S. and ourselves, haven't you noticed how militancy and bombing has come down significantly?
KN: You have conducted dharnas (sit-in boycotts) against drone strikes, and protested against the government's act of carrying them out. But the U.S. and Pakistan governments say that they are efficient in targeting the Taliban.
IK: Drones can never be
good. Like I said, war is never good for people. Give me one example of war
that has reconciled a nation or brought peace. There is no possibility that drones
can help these people. What kind of country or nation gives permission to
another country to have drones attacks within their country. What kind of
country takes money to kill their own wives and children? This is a corrupt
government with greedy leadership, and drones for them is a mere barter for
dollars and luxury. Therefore, it supports these drones. An honest government
should think about the people. If this government had any honesty, it would
have come up with alternative strategies.
KN: What's your vision for Pakistan?
IK: First, we need to understand what kind of country we want. Pakistan should be an Islamic Republic of Pakistan, which should follow the Objectives Resolution, something every political party of the country has endorsed, at all times: the ideology of the Quaid [Muhammad Ali Jinnah] -- who is my greatest inspiration -- and the ideology of Iqbal when he spoke about spiritual democracy. No one must bow down to anyone who speaks against the interest of the people.
We will declare four major emergencies. First and foremost, the education system.. There must be one core system of education, with a singular syllabus. A proper syllabus committee will be established. It will be ensured that there are equal opportunities for everyone and equal competition for everyone. Equip the people with a technical education.
Nothing can be done if there is [no] rule of law. We will also strengthen the judiciary and the police system. We will de-politicize the police, step out of the war on terror, and invest [our] time and resources on internal system cleansing. Revenue collection is next. We need to establish [a better] tax culture and eradicate contamination in tax distribution. And the most important agenda is to control corruption. Conflict of interest law will be established. This all needs to be done in 90 days. If you cannot do it in 90 days, the corrupt system will come back.
KN: How will you change Pakistan in 90 days, when the environment is conducive to the contrary of your agenda of filtration and cleansing?
IK: We need to create good governance and an enabling environment for good people who want to work. I will work towards attracting overseas Pakistanis and make it feasible for them to work here. Once that environment is created, recovery will automatically be on its way.
We will support professional politicians who will be ready to make sacrifices and compromises to take politics seriously. There is no room for opportunity seekers and no room for corruption and the corrupt. I will support and invest in the process of strengthening the NAB [National Accountability Bureau]. I will ensure the judiciary is strong.
KN: Your critics find it amusing that you talk about asset declaration while there is a bandwagon of politicians joining your party simultaneously -- many of whom you have criticized in the past. How do you justify that when you talk about accountability?
IK: I'm not going to be hijacked by a few people. When someone joins PTI, the first step for them is to declare their assets. If they default, they are held by our accountability committee. The corrupt system has to change. I believe that if you cannot do it in 90 days, you will never be able to do it. It's basically the question of who has the will. It's not what we have to do; it's who wants to do it.
KN: People of the Federally Administered Tribal Areas [FATA] and Balochistan have been secluded by the state for six decades. You say you plan to accommodate them. How would you do that, given their hostility?
IK: We will have a completely new relationship with the people of FATA and Balochistan and Gilgit. We will sit with them. We will mutually explore which laws they want to keep. We will try to develop mutual understanding on every matter that concerns them. A PTI government will execute massive development in FATA and Balochistan. We will try our best to ensure that the grievances of the people, of the common man, in any area, from any background, are not ignored. We will engage with every single Pakistani and ensure everyone gets their basic rights. Their right for food, employment, education, equity, and human rights. And we will do all this by good governance.
The way Pakistan is run should be changed, that's what I mean by a New Pakistan.
Kiran Nazish is a journalist, activist, and academic based in Pakistan. She can be followed on Twitter @kirannazish.
ASIF HASSAN/AFP/Getty Images
Two weeks ago, 24-year-old Pakistani-American Jubair Ahmad admittedthat he had been making videos for Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) from his Woodbridge,Virginia home under the direction of LeT leader Hafiz Saeed's son Talha. Aroundthe same time, governments on both sides of the Atlantic published findingsinto the link between online activity and terrorism. In the United Kingdom, theHome Office publisheda paper that concluded "the internet does not appear to play a significantrole in AQIR [al Qaeda influenced radicalization]," while in the United States,at a hearing on the Hill, RAND terrorism guru BrianMichael Jenkins concluded that jihadist websites "may create virtualarmies, but these armies remain virtual." But while the link between turningindividuals from passive consumers into active terrorists may be weak, caseslike that of Jubair Ahmad show the important role this virtual army can play inmagnifying the message of al-Qaeda and affiliated groups.
Jubair Ahmed is not the first Western individual who has helpedestablish websites or created video content in support of radical groups. Oneof the earliest was U.K.-based www.azzam.com,established in 1996, which provided a point from which groups in Afghanistanand Chechnya could broadcast their message while also telling potentialrecruits how to contact the groups. In addition, www.azzam.com (using the moniker Azzam Publications) helpedproduce a series of videos and cassette tapes about the fighting in Bosnia andChechnya that venerated fighters in the field.
By the mid-2000s, the Internet had become a more viablevehicle through which videos could not only be sold, but also streamed anddownloaded. Recognizing the value of getting footage from the field out asquickly as possible, al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) was at the forefront of a newpractice, turning videos into slick packages that could be uploaded ontoradical forums. But what was most interesting was the revelation in late 2005that British police in London had found a young Moroccan who turned out to be theinfamous online jihadist known as Irhabi007(terrorist007). Using this online handle, Younis Tsoulihad set himself up as a key webmaster and designer for AQI, and was notoriousfor being able to find the webspace needed to publish the grim video Americancontractor Nicholas Berg's beheading.
The novel aspect in Tsouli's case was the fact that AQIleaders noticed his online abilities and started to use him as a key outlet fortheir material. There have been numerous other Western webmasters for importantal-Qaeda linked websites - for example, in Belgium, Malikael-Aroud ran MinbarSoS, a website that provided a forum to recruitFrench-speaking Muslims to fight in Afghanistan. From the sunny Costa Blanca inSpain, FaicalErrai helped run ansaraljihad.net, and provided assistance for radicalsseeking to get to Afghanistan and Chechnya. But Tsouli appears to have been oneof the first Western residents to have been actively solicited by groups in thefield for his technical abilities.
And since Tsouli, we have seen al-Qaeda in the ArabianPeninsula (AQAP) use the skills of a young Pakistani-American radical blogger, SamirKhan, to help them produce Inspiremagazine - a publication that has repeatedly shown up in the hands of recently arrestedterroristplotters. Khan and hisAmerican-Yemeni mentor Anwar al-Awlaki are now both dead, but in a reflectionof the importance that AQAP placed upon al-Awlaki's capacity to reach a Westernaudience through new media, communicationsfound during the U.S. raid on Osama bin Laden'sPakistani compound allegedly include an offer from AQAP leader Nasiral-Wuhayshi to put al-Awlaki in charge of the regional group. Bin Ladendeclined the request, possibly highlighting the different level of importancehe placed upon new media capabilities in comparison to his regional affiliateleader.
A particularly surprising aspect of the Jubair Ahmad case isthe volume of micromanagement that Talha Saeed put into creating the video. Hetells Ahmad what images to include (not ones from the group's infamous Mumbaiattack), where to insert images of his father, the LeT leader, and what musicto have over the video. Saeed is obliged to get someone in America to do thetechnical work for him - quite a long distance from which to direct theproduction of a short YouTube video using easily available technology - whichlikely reflects a greater facility with such technology had by people broughtup in the West.
Just how easy it is to create these videos was seen recentlyin a case in the United Kingdom in which a law student, Mohammad Gul,was convicted of producing YouTube videos that glorified terrorist violence.While clearly the technology to make such videos is something that isuniversal, it does seem as though it is aspirant jihadists in the West who findit easiest to use. There was no evidence that Gul was being directed by foreignterrorist organizations to produce his material, and his case shows the continuedexistence of young Westerners producing radical material on their own. It mayindeed be the case that the virtual armies have yet to fully emerge as activewarriors on the battlefield, but in the meantime they are doing a great deal tokeep the jihadist flame alive on the Web, either by themselves or at thedirection of organized parties.
RaffaelloPantucci is an Associate Fellow at the International Center for the Study ofRadicalisation (ICSR) and the author of the forthcoming "We Love Death AsYou Love Life: Britain's Suburban Mujahedeen" (Hurst/Columbia UniversityPress). His writing can be found at: http://www.raffaellopantucci.com.
Starting Monday, 85 countries and 15 international organizations will gather in Bonn, Germany, to mark the 10th anniversary of the international conference that convened after the overthrow of the Taliban government. This convening provides an important opportunity to remove Afghanistan as a pawn from the region's chess board.
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For many analysts and policymakers, Pakistan's decision to grant Most Favored Nation (MFN) status to India earlier this month appears to be a major breakthrough in India-Pakistan trade relations. Under the MFN clause, all members of the World Trade Organization (WTO) are obliged to extend trading benefits to a country that are equal to those accorded to any other country. While India accorded Pakistan MFN status in 1996, Pakistan's decision to reciprocate has only come 15 years later.
Perhaps what has gone unnoticed by the world at large, however, is the unprecedented pace at which the Economic and Commercial Cooperation talks between India and Pakistan, which resumed in April and picked up again this week after a hiatus of three years, have proceeded. While India was keen on Pakistan granting it MFN status, the latter's major concern was that India should remove all non-tariff barriers that impede its market access into the Indian market. And a key feature of these talks has been that timelines have been specified for every item on the agenda. In particular, the April agenda stated that Joint Working Groups to address non-tariff barriers should be set up by August 2011, and that MFN status to India should be accorded by October 2011. Both conditions that have now been satisfied.
Under the extant bilateral trade arrangement between the two countries, Pakistan permits the import of only 1934 items from India, known as a ‘positive list' approach to trade limitations. Following the Pakistani federal cabinet's decision to grant MFN status to India there were three major concerns about its implementation process. First, the time period within which the shift from a positive to negative list (whereby the list contains specific banned, rather than permitted, items) would take place was not stated. Second, Pakistan has maintained a separate positive list for the road route between the two countries at the Wagah border crossing, where only 14 of the 1934 items on the overall positive list are allowed to be traded; analysts doubted whether this extra barrier would be rectified. And third, Pakistan has yet to meet its obligations under the South Asian Free Trade Agreement (SAFTA), under which members agreed to offer preferential access to other members by reducing tariffs within a specified timeframe.
The Joint Statement issued following the conclusion of talks on Wednesday addresses all of these concerns. First, it lays down the sequencing and timelines for the move towards full normalization of trade relations. In the initial stage, Pakistan will make a transition from the current ‘positive list' approach to a small negative list of banned items to be finalized and ratified in February 2012. In the second stage, the negative list will be phased out by the end of 2012. The new trading regime will also be applicable to all trade that goes overland between the two countries at the Wagah crossing, after the new infrastructure at the land border is complete, with the announcement of this change timed to coincide with the release of goods on the negative list. Both sides also agreed to move towards enhancing the preferential trading arrangements under the SAFTA process, and they also agreed to designate officials on both sides to work on this issue. If these timelines are met, there will be no contentious issues left with regards to the MFN status.
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Last week's Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) Summit in St. Petersburg, Russia was unsurprisingly uneventful. While not a "head of state" summit -- where traditionally big announcements like the decision to allow new members in would be made -- in the lead-up to the meeting there was a flurry of press about a possible enlargement of the group. But aspirant members and current observers India and Pakistan were not made into full members, and Afghanistan was once again not brought any closer into the club. Generally seen by Western observers as a less threatening entity than before, the organization's inability to move forward on expansion highlights its immaturity and should show outsiders the likely limited role that it will be able to play in post-American Afghanistan.
Initially born as a vehicle through which to resolve long-standing border disputes in the wake of the collapse of the Soviet Union, the "Shanghai Five" as it was known (made up of China, Russia, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan) formally changed its name in 2001 when it opened up to Uzbekistan and turned into the SCO. Over time, it developed into a forum in which regional players could forge closer links on a variety of issues, including economics, development, infrastructure projects and most recently education.
At the core of its identity, however, remained security concerns, focused on countering what the SCO members describe -- in a clear emulation of the Chinese definition of a threat -- as "terrorism, separatism and extremism." Its biannual "Peace Mission" joint counter-terrorism exercises have been the most visible expressions of this focus, offering opportunities for nations to get together and practice operations usually focused on countering an assault by a small force of well-armed terrorists. In January 2004 it established the Regional Anti-Terrorism Structure (RATS) in Tashkent, Uzbekistan, and the next year opened its doors to the leaders of India, Iran, Mongolia, and Pakistan, who all attended the annual summit as "observers." Also present was Afghan President Hamid Karzai, and the group agreed to establish the SCO-Afghanistan contact group, "with the purpose of elaborating proposals and recommendations on realization of cooperation between the SCO and Afghanistan on issues of mutual interest." However, since then the Contact Group has done very little, and while further countries have joined the constellation of nations interested in becoming involved in the organization (Belarus and Sri Lanka are now "Dialogue Partners" and Turkey has applied to join this club) no further tangible movement has been made.
Yet it seemed as though this might be changing. Earlier this year, the organization celebrated its ten-year anniversary, and at a high-level conference in Shanghai the question of expansion was brought up repeatedly. However, while Russian participants seemed eager for the organization to allow new members in, the Chinese side seemed hesitant, pushing to deepen the organization's economic focus and develop its international profile through official connections with other international bodies before expanding it further. This was reflected in the public discourse ahead of the St. Petersburg Summit where Russian officials backed the Afghan bid for upgrading the nation to "observer" status and openly supported Pakistan's bid for full-membership. Yet nothing happened, and in his official read-out to journalists on his way back from the Summit, Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi made absolutely no mention of the possibilities of expansion.
This inaction is somewhat perplexing to outside observers. The organization was fundamentally founded to clarify borders so as to counter a transnational terrorist threat that most would agree has had a regional home in Afghanistan, and yet the SCO has done surprisingly little in direct terms to help the nation. Individual members have given support and money, but the organization itself has not. The idea of membership, or at least "observer" status, would theoretically tie Afghanistan more closely to regional players and bolster the current administration in Kabul. Yet by this same token, admitting Afghanistan to the group would mean taking sides in a conflict whose outcome remains uncertain. No one yet quite understands what the American withdrawal in 2014 will actually look like, and SCO members are unsure whether they want to become too entangled in a nation that has already subdued at least one SCO member in the past (Russia). And atop all of this there is the capacity question: the SCO has no standing forces and controls few direct funds. Consequently, as a diplomat at the Secretariat in Beijing put it to me last year, "what would you have us do?"
Other potential members face different problems: unwilling to take sides, the organization would most likely have to open its doors to both India and Pakistan at the same time -- something that would also have the effect of bringing into the organization all the disagreements they share. The question of upgrading Iran is one that has taken something of a back seat of late following President Mahmoud Ahmedinejad's failed attempt to be admitted last year. The reason for this blockage seems to be a general desire amongst SCO members to not overtly antagonize the United States. Mongolia would seem to be a relatively natural member, but given the precedent that letting a nation in would set, it continues to be obliged to sit on the sidelines.
And so the question remains: Why, in the run-up to the St. Petersburg Summit, was there such a flurry of interest in possible expansion? One explanation is that Islamabad has for some time been trying to bolster its regional partnerships in an attempt to counter-balance American anger and perceived fickleness. Russia also appears to be behind a lot of talk of expansion. Concerned about the in-roads China is making in its Central Asian periphery, Moscow perhaps hopes that expanding the SCO, something seen as primarily a Chinese vehicle, might stretch it beyond its ability to function. While the SCO may not have done much yet, it has laid the foundations for a more weighty future -- a long-term vision that accords with China's approach to foreign policymaking.
Whatever the case, the end result is that another high-level SCO Summit passed with little tangible forward movement. Seemingly obvious achievements like upgrading Afghanistan or Turkey continue to be avoided, while outside China there is little evidence that the regional powers are willing to invest too much into the SCO. All of which is welcome news to those who worry about the organization becoming a "NATO of the East," but less positive to those who hope it might be willing to take on a greater role in Afghanistan when the United States makes its move in 2014.
Raffaello Pantucci is a Visiting Scholar at the Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences and an Associate Fellow at the International Center for the Study of Radicalisation. His writing can be found at http://www.raffaellopantucci.com.
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On Wednesday, more than 2000 Afghan representatives will meet in Kabul for a "Traditional Loya Jirga" at the request of President Hamid Karzai. The ostensible purpose of the meeting is to gain popular consensus on a Strategic Partnership Agreement with the United States on security cooperation and to reconfirm a commitment by the Afghan people to a peace process with the Taliban.
Both subjects need national support to succeed. But many in Afghanistan are questioning whether a Jirga is a legal means for approving agreements rather than the government or elected representatives. And even if it is legal, is it still wise?
The first question is easier to answer. There is nothing illegal per se for the Afghan President, or others, to convene a "Traditional Loya Jirga" when they want, just as someone may convene a ‘Million Man March' on a given issue in Washington. Jirgas, or councils, have been a common mechanism for community decision making in Afghanistan for centuries. National Loya Jirgas, or grand councils, have been used selectively to decide important matters of state.
Since 2004, however, a Loya Jirga has no binding legal authority unless it complies with formalities of the Constitution -- and the upcoming "traditional Loya Jirga" does not. Article 110 of the Constitution defines a Loya Jirga in very specific terms, stating that its voting members comprise "1. Members of the National Assembly; [and] 2. Presidents of the provincial as well as district assemblies." Most notably, no district council elections have been held, and therefore a proper Constitutional Loya Jirga is currently impossible. Beyond that, many of the delegates that were invited, such as tribal leaders, businessmen, or civil society representatives, do not hold positions authorized by the Constitution to attend an official Loya Jirga -- making quorum rules and voting rights entirely unclear.
A consultative Jirga, on the other hand, can make political statements or send signals to those in Parliament or the country's government about what is acceptable to the people. In 2010 President Karzai convened a "Consultative Peace Jirga" to initiate a peace process with the Taliban, and it endorsed the creation of the High Peace Council that was headed by former Afghan President Burhanuddin Rabbani until he was assassinated in September. Yet the High Peace Council was ultimately formed by President Karzai under his executive powers. As such, it serves as an advisory body and does not set a precedent for consultative Jirgas to pass legislation or otherwise take official state actions.
Those who criticize the legality of the upcoming Loya Jirga have two primary concerns. One is that President Karzai will seek to amend Article 62 of the Constitution, to allow him to run for a third presidential term. This seems unlikely, given the clear legal deficiencies the upcoming Jirga has compared to the Constitutional requirements stated in Article 110. Moreover, any attempt at amending the Constitution would surely encounter strong opposition from democratic opposition leaders and the international community, some of whom have already made their voices heard against Wednesday's Jirga.
The more difficult question is whether the Loya Jirga will be asked to approve a strategic partnership agreement with the United States as a binding agreement in lieu of Parliamentary ratification. Article 90 of the Constitution gives the National Assembly (comprised of both the upper House of Elders and lower House of the People) the duty of "Ratification of international treaties and agreements, or abrogation of membership of Afghanistan in them." The strategic partnership agreement probably would not qualify as a treaty because, among other things, the United States has so far not proposed to present it for Senate ratification under its own Constitution. Whether or not it meets the Constitutional definition of an "international agreement" hinges on its specific terms and definitions under Afghan law that likely have no precedent under the current Constitution.
That legal thicket should be left for another day, however, because the real concerns about Wednesday's Loya Jirga have more to do with political legitimacy than legal fine print. Implicit in the questions from Parliamentarians about the Traditional Loya Jirga's legality or the Taliban's threat to kill Jirga attendees is a fear that the "Traditional Loya Jirga" has more public credibility than they do, and will undermine their authority. Indeed, while the membership of other Loya Jirgas has been criticized as politically manipulated and unrepresentative, the Parliament is seen as little better after the fraud-filled 2010 election. The Taliban's credibility is, by some measures, at even lower ebb.
Ultimately, the merits of the Traditional Loya Jirga rest on whether one sees it as fundamentally democratic or a tool of an exclusive political elite. This, in turn, depends on the Jirga's membership and mandate. In an ideal form, national Jirgas could be seen as a rough equivalent of a referendum as compared to parliamentary legislation. While elected representatives handle everyday matters of law, a referendum's more direct democracy presents an opportunity for ‘the people' to surpass the legislature on matters of particular importance when conducted in accordance with the Constitution.
National jirgas have not been so pure in practice, however. Since the Constitution was ratified in 2004, national jirga representatives have tended to be selected on an ad-hoc basis, largely by the office of the President, without transparency and with clear deficiencies in representation of women, civil society, and other important constituencies.
Given that the "Traditional Loya Jirga" lacks formal requirements to assume constitutional powers, its main authority is political. Therefore, its success will depend on whether President Karzai has chosen members that truly represent diverse constituencies and limit themselves to political outcomes. If instead the delegates are seen as exclusive of key interest groups and attempt to make legally binding decisions that could not be approved otherwise, this Loya Jirga will represent a significant setback for Afghan democracy and could foment greater conflict, rather than pushing forward the priority of peace.
Scott Worden is a Senior Rule of Law Advisor at the U.S. Institute of Peace. He served as a Commissioner on the 2009 Afghanistan Electoral Complaints Commission and was an observer of the 2010 Parliamentary Elections.
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In less than a month, world leaders will once again convene in Bonn, Germany to lay out a roadmap for Afghanistan's fledgling democracy and its future beyond 2014. Chaired by the Afghan government, "Bonn+10," as it is now known, is expected to include representatives from dozens of countries and international organizations. It aims to devise an effective plan for the ongoing security transition to Afghan control, accelerate the contentious Afghan reconciliation process, and delineate long-term regional and international engagement of Afghanistan beyond 2014.
In anticipation of the meeting, the second phase of shifting security responsibilities to Afghan security forces was decided upon at an international conference in Istanbul on November 2. The Afghan government and twelve regional countries signed the Istanbul Declaration whereby the leaders of those countries, including Pakistan, India, China, Iran, Russia and some Central Asian Republics, expressed their support for Afghanistan and committed to cooperate in the Afghan reconciliation process and combat terrorism and insurgency. However, many Afghans view these developments with skepticism. They worry about the country's uncertain future as the U.S.-led coalition prepares to withdraw some troops and move the remainder into support roles ahead of the 2014 deadline. These fears are even more intense within Afghan civil society, excluded from both the upcoming gathering and the ongoing Afghan peace talks.
Many Afghans believe that another major conference alone will not serve as a panacea, or bring any tangible solutions to their problems, especially when President Hamid Karzai will select most of the participants with only nominal civil society representation, including NGOs and traditional local and tribal leaders. Such concerns were further escalated after Karzai asked to convene a traditional Loya Jirga (grand assembly) that would guarantee the primacy of his inner clique in the gathering, and hence a continuation of the present dysfunctional political system. The five-day Loya Jirga is scheduled to begin in Kabul on November 16, and will bring together around 2,000 influential Afghan political figures, warlords, former anti-Soviet mujahideen and jihadi leaders, local and tribal leaders, and civil society representatives to discuss the upcoming conference and the much-anticipated U.S.-Afghan Strategic Partnership. These doubts were intensified most recently when the Taliban published a 27-page document it claimed to be the official security plan for the so-called "slave jirga." If the document is proven to be authentic, it would represent a clear blow to the Afghan government, particularly the security apparatus, and would show the Taliban's ability to infiltrate even the most highly secured areas of government. The jirga's promise appeared further threatened when key Afghan opposition figures, including Abdullah Abdullah called it "illegal" and "unconstitutional," and said he will not partake.
Additionally, concerns abound across Afghanistan that President Karzai may abuse his executive powers to alter the Afghan Constitution and remain in office after ending his current term in 2014, despite his recent statements to the contrary. This potential move by Karzai is widely seen and construed, mostly by members of Afghanistan's United National Front, as a safeguard of his power in the case of waning support in his native south or a political gridlock in Kabul.
of violence over the past few months has further magnified some Afghans' doubts
about the U.S. strategy of trying to reconcile with the Taliban. Many Afghans
are concerned that next month's conference may well set in motion ten years or
more of yet another dysfunctional and corrupt governance for Afghanistan and
that planning for the future will be pointless and trivial without security and
stability on the ground. However, others fear that "Bonn+10" will fail to bring
any tangible change to Afghanistan because the focus of the meeting will not be
on reconciling with the Taliban. Many Afghans, as well as
non-Afghans, think it was a mistake to exclude representatives of armed
insurgent groups, including the Taliban, from the last Bonn meeting in 2001,
ignoring even those who reconciled, and that the likely reoccurrence next month
will inexorably mean failure for the conference.
They believe the Taliban's
exclusion from the conference means the meeting will be merely for show
and not for a political settlement. Worse still, the Taliban's exclusion may
well result in their challenging the outcomes of the conference just as they
did after the first Bonn meeting in 2001.
The various Bonn participants have expressed divergent views on the Taliban's presence at the upcoming conference. President Karzai has repeatedly stated that he will not participate in the meeting without the Taliban, and the United States and its NATO allies appear to have left the decision up to the Afghan government. However, the U.S. envoy in Kabul, Ryan Crocker, has categorically stated that there is no chance for the Taliban to participate in the conference. While the Taliban has rejected nearly every attempted negotiation, operating with such lack of coordination, transparency and leadership on an issue of national and international priority sends mixed and confusing messages to the Taliban leadership. This lack of unified voice has further complicated the already fragile peace process.
There are many contradictory views and misconceptions about the reconciliation process, and whether and to what degree to engage the Taliban as the United States assumes a non-combat and/or support role. While Afghanistan's reconciliation and reintegration process, ostensibly led by the High Peace Council, provides an official address for peace talks, it lacks the inclusiveness and national support necessary for successful implementation. The High Peace Council has become a talk show of incompetent representatives picked personally by President Karzai and has been largely unsuccessful in addressing the fears of most Afghans. While the reconciliation process is meant to achieve a timely and constructive peace deal with the Taliban, it also plays a crucial role in the transition process and supports the responsibility of both Afghan security forces and leadership. Afghanistan's current transition process is designed to produce better governance, catalyze economic development, and institutionalize the rule of law ahead of the 2014 U.S. withdrawal deadline. If the reconciliation with the Taliban does not materialize or fails, there will be no successful security transition.
Another impediment and an apparent challenge to the peace talks at Bonn next month is the realignment of anti-Taliban constituencies in the north of Afghanistan. This opposition includes primarily non-Pashtuns - Tajiks, Uzbeks, and Hazaras - who all fought against the Taliban under the umbrella of the Northern Alliance in the 1990s. Vigorous critics of both President Karzai and the Taliban, these elements believe they have the most to lose from any negotiated peace deal and strongly oppose any talks with the Taliban. It is widely believed that these groups will put together a unified voice to oppose and challenge the current reconciliation process in next month's conference. This belief was solidified last Friday after the former Afghan Vice President Ahmad Zia Massoud - a younger brother of the late anti-Soviet and anti-Taliban resistance leader Ahmad Shah Massoud - announced the formation a new political movement known as Jabha-e Milli-e Afghanistan (the National Front of Afghanistan). The movement that includes several key leaders of different minority groups has already taken a potent stance against the current Afghan government by denouncing and boycotting the upcoming Jirga.
Many Afghans also doubt that the conference can elicit increased or perhaps "sincere" regional support and commitment from neighboring countries. While the 2001 Bonn conference was successful in bringing together a large alliance and laying out a plan and groundwork for a peaceful and stable Afghanistan, one of the mistakes it made was ignoring regional countries and not curtailing their interference in Afghanistan. This gave Pakistan (and other external elements) a free hand to continue covertly supporting and providing sanctuary to subversive groups, including the Taliban and the Haqqani Network in Afghanistan, resulting in the killing of many Afghan, American and NATO soldiers. The Bonn conference next month is a good opportunity to garner and ensure such kinds of regional pledges and commitments with sticks and carrots.
In light of the difficulties and looming uncertainties ahead, it is unclear whether another Bonn conference will help Afghanistan positively shape its future. While there is no silver bullet for Afghanistan's ills, next month's meeting will at least provide an opportunity for the United States and NATO to lay out a functional roadmap ahead of and beyond 2014 for a successful political, security and economic transition, good governance, peace and reconciliation, and rule of law. There is also still time to ensure that the conference is truly representative of all Afghans, including different ethnic and social groups, to decide their uncertain future. It is equally important for Bonn+10 to ensure an authentic political will and sincere commitment to peace building in Afghanistan, and for Afghans to constructively engage in nation building process in the years to come.
Javid Ahmad, a native of Kabul, is Program Coordinator with the Asia Program of the German Marshall Fund of the United States in Washington, DC.
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